India’s ODI win just the catalyst for Test series (Column: Close-in)

The initial two disastrous losses that India faced in the One-day Internationals against Australia had all their followers in a state of disbelief. The daggers were drawn to attack India’s front-line bowlers and the captaincy of Virat Kohli. Unfortunately, the fan following of Indian cricket have over the years been emotional and immature and with the increased digital platforms and social media interaction, the cricketers are now being exposed to criticism like never before.

Winning has become the only mantra and the early losses of the Indian team in Australia has given rise to one and all attacking them mercilessly. Although India lost the ODI series 1-2, the victory in the last match redeemed them somewhat.

Indian bowlers were taken to task by the Australian batters, who being in home conditions, had a definite advantage on the placid conditions that were prevalent in Sydney. The dreaded Indian pace bowling pair in Jasprit Bumrah and Md. Shami without any swing, movement and deviation off the wicket to assist them looked helpless and docile.

The lack of match practice was quite evident as bowling four overs in a T20 IPL game is far different from bowling 10 overs in an ODI. The two lacked the rhythm to bowl the correct length and were, therefore, severely punished when they erred or experimented. The good opening partnerships by the Australians in the initial two matches was just the booster for their batsmen to play the spinners without care and with two huge totals in their bag, India were always on the backfoot.

The Australians naturally being familiar with the pace and bounce were at home playing strokes that they were familiar with. Indians, on the other hand, were still finding their feet in conditions which were new to them. The extra bounce was the reason why many of them after getting set, still faltered.

This is precisely the reason why visiting sides play a few practice matches before the internationals come into play. The present pandemic that needs a secure bio-bubble as well as quarantine requirements did not give India the luxury to play a few friendly matches against any of the Australian state sides. The reason that bowlers find it useful to play against the local players is to adjust their length to their stroke-play.

Conditions differ in every cricket playing nation and both the bowlers and the batsmen need to make the necessary adjustments to be successful. The correct length to play the drive, cut or a hook is different for every batsman and so every visiting team’s batter needs to work out their own solutions for it. The practice wickets are just an indicator as at most venues they are very different from what one encounters out in the middle.

India have to use the remaining three T20I matches as practice matches. The outcome or result should not be their main focus. They need to utilise the matches to get more familiar with the Australian conditions.

Fielding also was an area that one felt the Indian team neglected. One could see fielders struggle to take straight forward high catches. The reason one felt was because the ball in Australia comes down much quicker in the air than what one is used to back home. Most of the changes in ones technique in batting, bowling, or fielding are what every international level cricketer is wary of. The challenge for them is to adjust their minds quickly so that their body reacts involuntarily.

The most significant part of the Indian tour is the four-match Test series as well as for India to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that they won in 2018-19. The Indian team will require to show immense character for them to win it this time around. The absence of Virat Kohli, their captain and best batsman, after the first Test, will need them to show resilience and strength like never before.

The mystery is the omission of one of India’s star batters, Rohit Sharma, and his inability to travel to Australia. This, as well as the absence of India’s most experienced pace bowler, Ishant Sharma, will definitely not augur well for India. The Indian team will also have a new captain from the second Test onwards in Ajinkya Rahane and for them to adjust from the fiery, aggressive Kohli to the quiet and sober Rahane will be interesting.

The wonderful outcome of the third ODI was that India’s best bowler, Jasprit Bumrah, has got his out-swinger back. This was missing in the first two ODI’s. Bumrah, with his unusual incoming bowling action, the ball deviating away, is very difficult to encounter. The possibility of it coming in as well as moving away, has most batsmen struggling to adjust their footwork, especially at the pace in which he delivers.

India have the bowling strength to get Australia’s 20 wickets at a moderate total, but the bowlers will need to get their act in place quickly to be effective. They will have two practice matches to do so before the first Test match.

The batting is where India may struggle without Kohli and Rohit. They both can change the course of any game and to lose two match-winners will always be a worry. However, the good outcome that has come forth is the batting form of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja. The way they both batted in the ODI series showed that they have matured and become more responsible. One hopes Hardik will get fit enough to bowl and if so, India will have two very competent all-rounders in their midst.

India, who looked like a side which was already beaten and bruised after the initial two defeats, have now awoken from slumber. A win brings positivity and confidence. India, now have that under their belt. The T20 format is one that they are quite familiar with and a victory in the three-match T20 series could be just the catalyst for a Test series win thereafter.